Creating a Sole Custody Parenting Plan
What Does Sole Custody Mean?
Legal custody refers to making all of the major life decisions for the child, such as medical care, religious upbringing, schools and so on. The person with legal custody is referred to as the “Residential Parent and Legal Custodian,” and the other parent is the “Non-Residential Parent.” Legal custody has nothing to do with parenting time.
In the past, many courts would default to sole custody unless the parties were in agreement to enter into a shared parenting agreement. More recently, many courts are moving away from using sole custody as a baseline and will encourage parties to enter into a shared parenting arrangement. However, there are many cases where sole custody is still appropriate. Common fact patterns that often result in sole custody are:
- Cases where there is a history of domestic violence between the parties;
- Cases where the parties live far apart, such as in two different states;
- Cases where there is no evidence that the parties have the ability to communicate effectively, especially which respect to parenting decisions; and
- Cases where one party was largely uninvolved with the children’s upbringing.
The parent who has sole custody makes the major decisions. Major decisions include:
- Education: where the children go to school, at what age they start school, IEP plans or special programs
- Medical: any elective medical procedures such as braces, ear tubes, vaccinations, and medications
- Psychological/Mental Health: any counseling or therapy
- Extracurricular Activities: what sports, clubs, or organizations the kids participate in
- Religion: what faith, if any, the children will be raised
Many of these decisions will defer to the opinions of professionals. For example, if a physician recommends specific medical treatment and the parent with sole custody does not follow the doctor’s advice, the court may intervene.
There are also decisions that the sole custodian does not make:
- Day-to-day care when the non-residential parent has parenting time
- Any specific issues that are addressed in the court order, which often include deference to medical providers
- The parenting schedule, which is dictated by the court orders
The non-residential parent also has the same access to records as the sole custodian unless the court issues specific orders limiting access, which is very rare.
Sole Custody Visitation Schedules
If both parents agree that sole physical custody is in the child’s best interest, you can work together to create your own preferred visitation schedule. As long as you both agree on it, and the court believes it is in the best interest of the children, it will likely be approved.
In Ohio, there isn’t one consistent Standard Order of Visitation statewide. Rather, each county will have its own Standard Order that they will rely on when awarding sole custody. For example, in Dayton and Montgomery County, that standard order provides the non-custodial parent with visitation time every other weekend and three hours on Wednesday evening (or another evening that works for the family). It also outlines a schedule for each holiday, birthdays, summer vacation, spring break and Christmas break.
However, sole custody does not mean the non-residential parent is limited only to the Standard Order of Visitation. There are many cases where one parent has sole custody for decision-making purposes, but the parents share equal or close to equal parenting time. This is also true for shared parenting plans, which do not always mean equal time.
The Details of Court Orders for Sole Custody
There is a lot more to consider in your plan than just parenting time. If you are trying to create your own plan for sole residential custody, you will also need to address such topics as transportation – who is responsible for picking up and dropping off the children during the exchange? What happens if one party is late? How will missed time be made up… or will it? What happens if the child gets sick when they are with the non-custodial parent? Creating your own plan can be done, but if you want to ensure you are covering all of your bases, your best bet is to engage with a qualified family law attorney for assistance.
Sole Custody and Child Support
Granting sole physical custody of the child to one parent may potentially impact child support payments in Ohio. While Ohio uses a standard child support formula, it does take parenting time into consideration. For example, if the non-custodial parent is obligated to pay child support but keeps the child more than 90 overnights per year, the court may reduce the child support obligation. If the child stays more than 147 nights per year, the court is basically required to reduce child support payments. The biggest difference with a sole custody parenting arrangement versus shared parenting is that the non-residential parent will pay child support, even if they make less than the parent with sole custody.
When Does Sole Legal Custody Make Sense?
There are times when it’s advisable to request sole legal custody. For example, if one spouse is frequently out of town for work or other obligations, it may make sense to give the other parent the decision-making power. If the parents are of different religious beliefs that are at odds with each other, it may be necessary to appoint one parent as the legal custodian of the child. Or if one parent struggles with substance abuse, they may not be able to share in the responsibility of making appropriate decisions for the children.
Sole Custody versus Shared Parenting
In Ohio, those are your two choices. Shared parenting means you share the responsibility for making the big life decisions. The amount of parenting time each spouse receives is a separate matter entirely; shared parenting only refers to the issue of legal custody. One spouse can retain sole legal custody but still offer a generous amount of parenting time to the non-custodial parent. Conversely, both spouses can be awarded shared parenting, yet one spouse could be granted sole physical custody. And unmarried parents face the same custody issues as divorcing couples, assuming paternity is not in question.
Ohio Custody Lawyers
An experienced family law attorney is best suited to help you with issues of child custody. Whether you are currently considering divorce or are already divorced but unhappy with your current custody arrangement, an expert in family law can walk you through the pros and cons of sole legal and physical custody. A local law firm like Kirkland & Sommers can advise you about the different counties in the area and how their Standard Orders of Parenting compare. If you are creating you own plan, you can use several counties’ plans as guides and create a custom plan that works for your family.
Schedule a Free Consultation
The attorneys at Kirkland & Sommers have more than 100 years of combined experience and can answer all of your questions about custody arrangements, child support, divorce and more. With offices in Dayton and West Chester, we are well positioned to serve clients in a 10-county area and have experience in all of the local courts in the greater Miami Valley and northern Cincinnati areas. Starting is easy! Just call us at one of our convenient locations or click the link below to get started!